Congressman Jim Gerlach (PA-6th District) attended a Medal of Honor (MOH) ceremony Wednesday at the White House for Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr. and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Sabo's family for the fallen soldier's courage and sacrifice during the Vietnam War.
Sabo, who lived in Ellwood City, Lawrence County, heroically fought to protect his fellow soldiers during a fierce firefight in Cambodia on May 10, 1970. He died in combat that day.
President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Sabo's widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown.
Congressman Gerlach, who also is an Ellwood City native, worked with Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-4th District) to get the Department of Defense to finalize Sabo's MOH nomination, which had languished for decades.
"We are forever grateful for the extraordinary valor and selflessness Specialist Sabo displayed in battle 42 years ago," Gerlach said. "America's greatness stems from the willingness of our friends, our neighbors and our family members to answer a call to duty. And when those we know and love, such as Specialist Sabo, lay down their lives while wearing our nation's uniform, it is our collective duty to pay tribute to their actions and honor their memories. While the recognition of Specialist Sabo's gallantry and intrepidity are long overdue, it was an absolute honor to join with our nation today in presenting the country's highest military honor to Specialist Sabo's family and thanking the entire Sabo family for their sacrifice. All of Ellwood City and Lawrence County can be most proud of this incredible hero."
On May 10, 1970, SPC Sabo and his platoon were ambushed by North Vietnamese soldiers. Amid heavy fire, he ran to distribute ammunition to his fellow soldiers and was wounded as he threw himself over a wounded comrade to shield him from a grenade blast. Despite his wounds, Sabo fired and provided cover to medical evacuation helicopters as they retrieved wounded soldiers. Sabo was then killed by enemy fire.
SPC Sabo's MOH recommendation languished for decades until it was discovered in 1999 by Alton Mabb, a Vietnam veteran from Florida in the National Archives. Mabb contacted his Congresswoman, Corrine Brown, who later inserted language in the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense (DoD) Authorization bill granting the president the authority to award Sabo the Medal of Honor, even though the three-year statute of limitations for his award had long expired.
After being contacted by Sabo's widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, Congressmen Gerlach and Altmire urged DoD officials to complete consideration of this case as soon as possible. After repeated letters and phone calls, U.S. Secretary of the Army John McHugh finally announced on March 31, 2010 that the U.S. Department of Defense was officially recommending the President award Sabo the MOH.